Saturday, 30 April 2011

Fine Dining

Last night, as the final part of my 50th birthday celebrations, Judith took me to The Old Vicarage in Ridgeway, to the south of Sheffield, the only Michelin-starred restaurant in South Yorkshire. I have been an avid watcher of various cookery programmes on TV, particularly 'Master Chef' in its many varieties, but have never, until last night, sampled Michelin-Star food.

The restaurant is, as its name suggests, an old vicarage, which makes for a cosy and intimate setting for dinner. After a glass of champagne and canapes in the lounge, we were seated in the conservatory with about ten to a dozen other guests. The menu was a seven course one, cooked and presented excellently, served efficiently and courteously by the young waiting staff and with personal attention from the maitre-d' and the Executive Chef, Tessa Bramley.

On the menu we had:
Champagne & Canapes
Pan-fried Langoustine tails with wild garlic & chive risotto
Baked fillet of Brill with Yorkshire Liquorice, caramelised hazelnuts & buttered parsnips
Quail roasted with pomegranate molasses, roast potato purée, fennel, orange & pomegranate salad
Roast fillet of local charolais beef, thyme roasted beetroot with fresh horseradish, butter gallette of Jersey Royals & sautéed wild girolles
Waterloo Cheese with white truffle honey & toasted brioche
Chocolate & Mocca Soufflé, Sweet Woodruff Ice Cream & Cherry Compote with Kirsch syrup
Rounded off with coffee in the lounge.

The experience is one I will remember; the ambiance of the evening was perfect, and the food and company wonderful. I must confess to feeling a little guilty about us spending the amount we did on the meal (about what we normally spend on groceries for 3 weeks), but then you're only 50 once, and I will increase my donation to Christian Aid this year in an attempt to salve my conscience a little.

I just wish I could cook like that!

And there is now a part of me that, having sampled 1-star food, is now eager to try 2-star. Maybe I'll have to start saving up for Judith's 50th and take her to Le Gavroche?

Friday, 29 April 2011

Wedding Fever...

Today HRH Prince William of Wales and Kate Middleton will 'tie the knot' at Westminster Abbey and, like many millions of couples before them, become man and wife. This is not a rare occurrence - so why is there so much media fuss?

Part of the reason is, of course, that William is second in line to the British crown - whatever that means in an increasingly egalitarian society. By virtue of his birth (and the popular and media obsession with his mother, Diana Princess of Wales) he has lived his life in the media spotlight simply by dint of who his parents were. Don't get me wrong: I'm not particularly anti-royalist, nor am I particularly pro-royalist - I'm just not convinced that aristocracy should necessarily be a criterion for celebrity, in the same way that I'm not convinced that there is much that should lead to 'celebrity' as it is hallowed today.

I may not be a royalist (nor a republican), but I am at times a cynic, and part of me sees this media-led hysteria surrounding the wedding as a way of diverting popular attention away from the parlous state of our domestic political situation, as the implications of Coalition economic policies begin to take hold of people's lives. There's nothing like a party (and a day off work) to take your mind off your troubles! Of course, those troubles will still be there tomorrow.

Nevertheless, I know from experience that marriage is not an easy journey, but through a combination of love, hard work, determination and prayer Judith & I have managed to survive 23 years so far. Sadly the track record for William's family (apart from The Queen & Prince Philip) is not good as far as marriage goes. So I wish them both well; I hope that the press and the people will leave them alone to make this marriage work; and I pray that God would bless their union. But that is, if I'm honest, the extent of my interest in their happy day.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

23 years...

At 11:00 on Saturday 23 April 1988 Judith & I were married at Walkley Baptist Church in Sheffield. It was the church that Judith had grown up in, and had recently been refurbished - in fact we were the frist couple married there following the refurbishment. The weather was OK - not as nice as it is in Sheffield today - and it was great to share the day with friends and family.

Reflecting on the last 23 years, my thoughts turned to the following poem - one of my favourites - by RS Thomas, which for me sums up the love that underpins any successful union of man and woman. It's simply called 'A Marriage.'

We met
     under a shower
of bird-notes.
     Fifty years passed,
love's moment
     in a world in
servitude to time.
     She was young;
I kissed with my eyes
     closed and opened
them on her wrinkles.
     `Come,' said death,
choosing her as his
     partner for
the last dance, and she,
     who in life
had done everything
     with a bird's grace,
opened her bill now
     for the shedding
of one sigh no
     heavier than a feather.

Friday, 22 April 2011

What else could I have done? 6

Part 6 - Jospeh

It was a travesty: I shall have to say something at the next Council meeting, and I know that Nicodemus will back me up. There was no way in the world that Jesus had a fair trial, and dragging us out of our beds at that time of morning… unheard of!
Some of the things he said really rang home to me, you know. All his talk of the Kingdom of God, it seemed to be…well, right, you know. I checked some of it out with the prophets’ writings, and there was definitely something there. Nicodemus told me that he’d had a chat with Jesus one night – well, he didn’t want the others to know; even then they were a little suspicious of him. Jesus had said something about being ‘born again’, which Nic hadn’t really grasped. But the more I think about it, the more I think ‘wouldn’t it be great to be able to start over again, wipe the slate clean’, you know.
Anyway, I felt that the least I could do after the way we’d treated him was to give him a decent burial – after all, he’d not had a decent death. I’d met Pilate once before at a civic function, so it was easy to go to him and ask for the body. He seemed quite surprised that Jesus was dead already, but his centurion assured him that he was – he’d stuck a spear in his side to make sure, he said.
So I wrapped him up, and placed him in a tomb I’d bought not long ago. I had planned to use it myself, but I figured this was as good a use as any for it… but what else could I have done?
 (c) John Simms 2010

Thursday, 21 April 2011

What else could I have done? 5

Part 5 - The Women

It was horrible; I couldn’t watch really. We’ve been with him for the last 3 years, looking after him and his friends, making sure that they had at least one square meal. Well, they used to sit up till all hours, talking and laughing; and sometimes they’d go off and not be back for days. I remember once he went off with Peter, James & John – they were always the closest, at least then – and they came back with all sorts of stories about Moses & Elijah! Men, eh?!
When we came to Jerusalem last weekend it was great; everyone in the party mood, with it being Passover and everything. To be honest I was glad someone else was sorting out the dinner this year. But when we’d finished everything went horribly wrong, and before we knew where we were Jesus had been arrested and condemned to death. We tried to get the crowd on our side, but the priests had whipped up the mob for Barabbas, and no-one listens to women these days, whatever we try to say.
Needless to say the men all ran away – all except John that is. It was quite moving really, Jesus asked him to look after Mary – it must’ve taken all the strength he could muster just to breathe, never mind speak, but he managed.
We’ve decided to go and visit the grave on Sunday morning – we can’t go tomorrow with it being Sabbath. Just to sit and remember, and maybe put some spices in the tomb. But we just felt we had to be here today, though, in his final hours… But what else could we have done?
(c) John Simms 2010

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

What else could I have done? 4

Part 4 - The Penitent Thief

Blimey! He was right… well I think he was, ‘cos this sure looks like Paradise to me…
What a day it’s been. We were out last night, Jim & me, doing a bit of thieving… unfortunately there were a lot of guards about last night; they were bringing in another guy and caught us sneaking out of Cohen’s pawnbrokers – would you believe it?!
Well, it was a quick trial – didn’t want us hanging around over the holiday weekend (no pun intended, by the way) – so they scheduled us for execution that morning. And what do you know: they put us with the guy they were bringing in last night. Jesus his name was. And you’ll never guess what he was up for – ‘King of the Jews’ it said. To be honest I thought I’d seen him before, then I remembered: it was last Sunday, we were mingling with the crowd, relieving people of their heavy loads – well, heavy purses – and he came riding through the crowd on a donkey. We laughed at the time, but everyone else seemed quite excited. Who’d’ve thought, eh?
I’ll say one thing for the Romans, they’re efficient. They’d got us stripped off, nailed down and strung up before you could say Pontius Pilate. I’ve never known such pain. But the weird thing was that this Jesus doesn’t scream; he prays, and he prays that God would forgive them for crucifying him.
Well Jim’s hanging there, cursing all the gods he can think of and then some, and folk are coming past and having a go at us, but particularly at Jesus. And he just hangs there and takes it. Then Jim has a go at him, but I think, no, he don’t deserve this, and I tell Jim that. Then I think, ‘what the heck’ and I asks Jesus to remember me when he comes as King. I don’t know why – it just seemed as if it was my last hope… But what else could I have done?
(c) John Simms 2010

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

What else could I have done? 3

Part 3 - Pilate

Look, to be perfectly honest with you, the sooner I get back to Rome the better. The noise and the smell of all these people travelling in for… what is it they call it?... Passover, that’s it, I tell you, it’s more than a man can take. And as for the wife… hardly any decent shops, and now she’s started having nightmares. I can’t think who I must’ve upset to end up in this gods-forsaken backwater.
So, this morning the crowd from the Temple brought in this chap – looked a bit of a mess to be honest – and accused him of subversion and sedition, claiming to be a king. When I found out he was a northerner, well, I sent him to Herod, who looks after that neck of the woods, but he got bored with him and sent him back. (Laughs) They’d dressed him up in a robe, so he looked a little more like a king.
Well, it was obviously a put-up job – I couldn’t find a scrap of evidence to convict him and sentence him to death, so I suggested as a compromise that we give him a good sound thrashing and let him go. But they were having none of it, and asked me to release some bandit called Barabbas instead of this Jesus. Well if I’m honest I’d rather have a crazy preacher loose than a mass murderer, so I suggested again that I release Jesus but they’re still having none of it, and things started to turn a bit ugly.
Well to be honest I was starting to get one of my heads and the last thing I wanted was a full-scale riot on my hands. So I washed my hands of the whole affair and let them do what they wanted with this Jesus… But what else could I have done?
(c) John Simms 2010

Monday, 18 April 2011

What else could I have done? 2

Part 2 - Peter

No, it’s OK, I’m all right now. No, it’s been one hell of a night. We’d had a great time together, good food, a bit of wine, bit of banter… well you know what blokes are like when they’re together – ‘I’m a better disciple than you’ ‘I’d go to prison for you: I’d even die for you’. Was that just the wine talking? Then Jesus said some stuff about his body & blood, and bread & wine which I didn’t really get to be honest, then He turns on me and says I’d betray him.
Anyway, Jesus seemed to think things might get a little hairy, so we ‘tooled up’ – big ‘ard men you see – and went to Mount Olive; get some air, clear our heads, and Jesus said he wanted to pray. Have to admit the wine was kicking in by then, and to be honest we all fell asleep.
Then that rat Judas turns up with Temple guards in tow, and leads them straight to him. There’s a bit of a ruck, and I might’ve caused a bit of damage to one of them – but he seemed OK afterwards, so that’s alright. Then they led him away, and the others scarpered: but I couldn’t leave Him, so I followed.
Someone’d lit a fire in the courtyard, so I sat down for a warm. Then this young lass starts blurting out “He was with him – I seen him on Sunday with the donkey”. ‘Don’t know what you mean’ I said. Then another: “Yeah, I recognise him” ‘You’re talking nonsense’ I said. Then this southern boy comes up and says “You gotta be wiv ‘im, your accent gives you away”. Well I stood up, looked him in the eye, and said ‘I dunt knaw what tha’s talkin’ ‘bart!’
Then it happened: they were leading Him across the yard, just as I was talking, and he looked at me, and the cock crowed… and I remembered what he’d said… But what else could I have done?
(c) John Simms 2010

Sunday, 17 April 2011

What else could I have done? 1

Last Good Friday I shared a series of brief meditations as part of our Good Friday Service. To be honest I'd forgotten about them, but some one in one of the churches I serve mentioned them the other day. They follow the Passion narrative in Luke, and try to give some thought to how the supporting cast in this drama may have been feeling as those tragic yet wonderful events unfolded.

So, here's part 1 - Judas.

Look, things didn’t work out quite as I’d hoped, I have to say. From the look on Simon’s face I’m not going to be welcome back in the group again: I’ve never seen him so angry – and that’s not nice to see when he’s got a dirty great sword in his hand. Poor Malchus: though you’d hardly know he lost that ear now to look at him.
I just felt that someone had to do something. After the way the crowd greeted us last Sunday, I just thought ‘this is it! The revolution starts here: an end to Roman tyranny!’ But instead of leading us to the Fortress Antonia, Jesus went to the Temple, and started causing a riot there. I thought ‘this isn’t how it’s supposed to be; this isn’t what I expected at all’.
So I decided I had to try and force his hand. Box him into a corner, so that he’d come out fighting. That’s why I went to the High Priest… Oh the others will say I only did it for the money: they think I’ve had my fingers in the till for years now, that that’s all I’m interested in. But I only want what’s best – for everyone.
He knew I was going to do it, you know… he said so last night while we were eating. I don’t think any of the others saw me slip out – too busy arguing among themselves who was the best, the most loyal: well, they all ran away when he was taken: not one of them stayed.
I feel dreadful, I really do. They’ve taken him to the High Priest: God knows what’ll happen to him now… But what else could I have done?
(c) John Simms 2010

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Feast or picnic?

I was reminded this morning of a quote I'd noted down a few months ago. At the end of a book written with Richard Foster called 'Longing for God' Gayle Beebe speak about feasting on "the real whole-wheat Bread of Life", quoting someone called Thomas Kelly.

This left me wondering: how often have I given people stale white bread, with most of its goodness bleached out of it? And realising that I need to feed God's people with food that will fully satisfy them, not just providing them with a snack.

But for that to truly happen, I have to ensure that I am receiving a sustaining diet too: that I am feasting on "the real whole-wheat Bread of Life" myself: for there to be bread on the table I have to make sure that I'm well supplied.

That set me thinking about some of the 'nutritional' metaphors that are used in the New Testament for Christian teaching. Both Paul and the writer to the Hebrews talk about giving their hearers 'milk' rather than 'solid food', which they would not be able to stomach, and Peter speaks of craving 'pure spiritual milk'. But how many of those in our pews appear to be lactose-intolerant, let alone ready for the 'meat' of God's word?

What I have found is that there is, at least within the congregations with whom I minister, a deep hunger for God's word, and a longing for a rich and varied diet. Lord, feed me, that I may feed your sheep!

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Luke & Jon

Music came to the wilderness last night. In the midst of the art we were delighted to welcome two contrasting musicians, Luke Leighfield and Jon Gomm.

Luke, a young man from Southampton, played us his own compositions on a solo keyboard. Someone on YouTube said of his music 'his songs sound like they should be in musicals' - see what you think. It was a good set, though I thought the sound balance between keyboard and vocals could have been better.

Jon Gomm is a sensation (my considered opinion). He has a unique way of playing guitar that almost turns it into a band on its own, and has a dream-like, mumbling vocal style somewhat akin to John Martyn. Again, here's an example of his work that I hope you'll enjoy. He did struggle a little with the acoustics in the church, and the 'natural reverb', but an excellent set, and only a shame that there weren't more there to hear.

Friday, 8 April 2011

A new season

Well, the wait is almost over. Today sees the start of the English domestic cricket season, and as a true-blooded, card-carrying Yorkshireman obviously my hopes are with God's own county to bring home some silverware this year.

Yorkshire are the only team not fielding an overseas player this season, so it will be interesting to see what purely home-grown talent can do. And what talent we have! Tim Bresnan, Ajmal Shazzad and (briefly) Adil Rashid have all been on full England duty this winter; Rashid helped South Australia to T20 success, and also joined Andrew Gale, Adam Lyth & Jonathan Bairstow on the England Lions' team who were one wicket away from topping the West Indies Domestic 4-day table. And the return of Ryan Sidebottom to Yorkshire colours, after being part of the Championship-winning Notts team last season, will give some experience to the side which has some promising young talent within it.

Probably the biggest threat to Yorkshire this season will be Somerset, who were so close to a clean sweep last season but managed to finish runners-up in all three competitions. Marcus Trescothick continues to produce the goods, and has been ably supported by James Hildreth, who may see himself in England colours this year.

As well as the English domestic season, today also sees the start of the 4th Indian Premier League T20 competition, and thankfully ITV4 are showing live coverage of it. Although T20 is not the 'purest' form of the game, it can at times be highly entertaining, and I'm looking forward to the thrills.

Following from their Ashes success this winter, England will be taking on the two World Cup finalists, India & Sri Lanka in 7 Test matches, 10 ODIs and 2 T20Is. It all promises to be a full and exciting programme of cricket. Let the games begin!

Saturday, 2 April 2011

A nation celebrates

Well, after 6 weeks, the Cricket World Cup is over, and India have emerged as worthy winners after a thrilling final against co-hosts Sri Lanka.

It's been an interesting tournament, with some outstanding displays of batting, bowling and fielding, and some abject disasters too in all three fields. It has thrown up some surprising results - well, surprising to some - as England lost to Ireland but beat South Africa, and shares in that fabulous tie against the eventual champions.

We have seen, perhaps, the final World Cup performances from cricketing legends such as Ricky Ponting, Muttiah Murulitharan and Sachin Tendulkar, who failed to score his 100th international century during the contest, but who still thrilled the crowds with his poise and timing.

England went to the competition with high hopes of repeating their T20 World Cup success, but sadly, despite some excellent individual performances from Jonathan Trott and Tim Bresnan to name but two, they were not able to come up to the standard needed. Their campaign was not helped, of course, by a number of injury and health problems which surfaced, but they were still able to reach the quarter final stage.

And now, as the parties continue across a continent, the English prepare for the start of the domestic season next week. Here's to a summer of more excellent and enjoyable cricket! (And hopefully a Yorkshire Championship!)